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Nine Years Under: Coming of Age In An Inner-City Funeral Home by Sheri Booker

Lately I've been on a run of non-fiction--this is unusual for me because (and I know I say this every time I review a non-fiction book) non-fiction and I generally don't get along.  Every once in a while though, I find a non-fiction book that sticks and I read it AND I finish it.  Nine Years Under: Coming of Age In An Inner-City Funeral Home is Sheri Booker's first book... well, actually it isn't because during the course of the book she talks a little about how she's published a collection of poetry.  But this is her first prose book.  I saw this title come up in the New Titles list in the online catalog, and since I'd recently come across a review for another memoir set in a funeral home and added it to my reading list, I thought I'd request Nine Years Under and read it.

This is a quick and easy read and Booker's writing style is easily accessible.  There are a few quibbles--for example, there are a few passages in which the chronology and/or those people involved in the action of those passages and the actions ascribed to them are confusing.  I think it was a partially a pronouns issue in one of the passages.  In one such passage the author drops a huge bombshell regarding a family member's health and then after those paragraphs the issue isn't even mentioned for several chapters.  Meanwhile, I'm like, WHAT IS HAPPENING IS (S)HE GOING TO DIE?

Starting in high school, the author spends nine years working part time for a funeral home owned and run by a deacon in her church.  The account focuses heavily on her work in and for the funeral home, while some personal stories about her family and romantic life are shared.  Booker starts strictly as an office employee, answering phones and letting people in the front door when the buzzer rings.  By the time she's spent just a couple years working in the mortuary business, she has graduated to assisting with viewings, prepping bodies for services, and some accounting tasks.

This is clearly a business in which one sees it all, from family dramas and histrionics to unspeakable tragedies to murderers coming to the funeral to view the bodies of their victims.  There is clearly no shortage of dramatic stories.  When the funeral home itself becomes a crime scene after gunshots break out at the funeral of gang member because a rival gang wants payback, I'm surprised Booker's parents don't put an end to the funeral home job (although by this time, Booker may have been in college).

This memoir offers a fascinating and interesting glimpse inside the day to day business of a family owned funeral home in Baltimore.  And in many ways the business of the funeral home in which Booker worked serves as a window onto the rough streets and struggles of one of the most crime ridden cities in America.  It's also interesting to see how funeral customs differ even within the United States.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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